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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



Margrave Of The Marshes

March 24th, 2006 · 1 Comment

I finished the John Peel autobiography, ‘Margrave Of The Marshes’ last night. I say ‘auto..’, he actually wrote just under half of the book, his wife Sheila finishing the rest of it. The changeover between the two, the sudden nature of his part stopping and her picking up the story, is one of the saddest moments in any book I’ve ever read. It’s odd to think of a 65 year old man as having so much unfulfilled potential, especially one who was already arguably the most important figure in the development of pop music in the UK. I’d argue that anyway.

His life story is candid, heartwarming, beautifully written as you expect from the presenter of Home Truths, full of his love for music, his family, tales of his frankly insane youth and young adulthood. I’m not sure I’d have liked him if I’d met him in the late 60s, though even then, the excerpts from his diary that Sheila quotes reveal a man I have an enourmous amount of empathy and respect for, despite his opportunist deceptions involving the Beatles and deflowering numerous american highschoolers…

His marriage to Sheila is an inspiration, his love for his family equally so. His impact on me as a musician and music fan has been written about here before, but it bears repeating – growing up in Berwick on Tweed, pre-internet, music information was pretty hard to come by. There was the mag trinity of NME/Sounds/Melody Maker which, whilst nowhere near the cheap nasty nonsense they are now, were still pretty trend-driven, even if those trends were a little more underground that they are today. No, the only real source of information about music-without-boundaries was Peel, and I devoured his show voraciously, recording it onto Tandy cassettes, making compilations of Pixies sessions before they were released, and collections of tunes by The Wedding Present, Bongwater, Napalm Death, The Stupids, Rob Jackson (not THAT Rob Jackson, sadly), Billy Bragg, The Bhundu Boys, Extreme Noise Terror and hours of obscure Soukous and strange German techno squawks.

The overall effect was that of removing all possible labelling from the process of making music. This allowed me to be simultaneously a fan of BoltThrower, Weather Report, The Cure, Wet Wet Wet, George Benson, John Zorn, The Alarm, Yes, The Housemartins and just about anything else that came along. I was often being accused of having ‘no taste’ – not bad taste, just no discernment about what to listen to at all. Truth was I did, I went through obsessive phases (just as Peel did), and kept the best of it as I moved on. In 1986 I voted the Mission and The Smiths the worst bands in the Smash Hits readers poll. By the 1990, I had every album the Smiths had ever released, along with having cultivated a near-obsession with The Cure and The Pixies that lasts to today. Only this week I’ve been introducing various students of mine to the majestic delights of Kim Deal’s bass playing via ‘Debaser’ and ‘Hey’.

The more poignant, funny, engaging and revealing the book became, the greater the pain at John’s loss. The greater the sense of anguish for the family at having lost him – as much as I miss his broadcasting, and regret never having met him, it quite obviously is nothing compared to the excuciating pain of losing a parent/husband/brother/friend.

The tributes when he died were effusive, though not a surprise. I was one of millions of teens from the laste 60s onwards who saw the world of music though Peel-tinted specs, who dispensed with the style fascism of most teen music-factions and took on the mantle of music-lover. I think it’s safe to say that without that exposure, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today. My relationship with music would have been very very different indeed, and that desire to explore as a listener would never have spilled over into that desire to explore as a player that lead to me playing solo.

So go, read the book, remember John, tell your kids about him, make them read the book, and buy them a copy of the new Billy Bragg boxed set, the Hardcore Holocaust’ Peel sessions compilation, The Shed Sessions by The Bhundu Boys and any other weird nonsense you find in the hope that they’ll grow up to view labels like ’emo’ and ‘goth’ and ‘pop fan’ to be as erroneous as they really are.

John, you are missed.

Tags: Musing on Music

Cambridge gig

November 26th, 2005 · Comments Off on Cambridge gig

Last night’s gig was a lot of fun. It was in St Ives, which until a couple of weeks ago I thought was in Cornwall. There’s one in Cambridgeshire as well, dontchaknow. Anyway, it was a benefit gig organised by The Free Church (URC), who are celebrating 25 years since the building was done up and the church was reborn, and instead of raising money for themselves, they’ve picked 25 local, national and international charities to support. A good thing.

The lineup for the gig was Alias Grace, Rob Jackson and me. Alias Grace is a duet of Peter Chilvers and Sandra O’Neill, playing lovely folky piano/vocal stuff. Rob toured with me on the Grace And Gratitude tour, and is always a treat to listen to. So even if it’d been rubbish gig for me, it would’ve been worth going to see the others play. As it was, it wasn’t a rubbish gig for me at all. The church hall was a lovely space to play in, and the audience seemed wonderfully attentive. I didn’t play quite as well as I did last Sunday in Manchester – not badly, just not quite as sharp, but I did get to play my new ‘Scott Peck’ tune, which will be on the next album. Ran out of time all-too-soon and wasn’t able to play the one request that I’d had (for Highway One, from Catherine Street-Team) – will play it at next Cambridge gig, I promise!

Tonight’s gig will be lots of fun – it’s an improv thing with Filomena Campus, Roger Goula and Rowland Sutherland – all great musicians, and the last time we did it it was magic. Plus there’ll be dancers and video projections… should be v. interesting.

In other news, the TV and radio have been blanketed by the news about George Best’s death, which is undoubtedly a tragic moment for his family, and an important milestone in the history of British football. However, as a dispassionate observer, it’s tough not to feel some anger at him having started drinking again after liver transplant. 70 people on the transplant waiting list died last year before they were able to get their new liver – these are very precious things, and for someone to squander their second chance like that is terrible. The people who served him may also need to do some soul-searching. I guess it’s partly a testimony to the power of addiction, but is it also the stubbornness of Best that he thought he could go there again and not die??? I dunno, I’ll never know. right now I’m very sad for his family and those who loved him, and for those who have lost people on the transplant waiting list – I’m guessing this news isn’t doing much for their pain.

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John Lester/Gretchen Peters gig

October 2nd, 2005 · Comments Off on John Lester/Gretchen Peters gig

Regular readers or Stevie-gig-goers will already be familiar with John Lester – he’s proof if ever it were needed that being fantastic won’t necessarily make you a star (if it did, he’d be the new Sting). For the uninitiated, he’s a singer/songwriter who plays upright and electric bass to accompany himself. He’s a marvelous songwriter, and a really gifted bassist, and has released two really lovely albums.

One of his now-regular gigs is with Nashville-based singer/songwriter Gretchen Peters, both opening the show solo and playing bass for Gretchen’s trio.

It’s one of my favourite gig experiences – going to see a friend play that I know is fantastic, but the rest of the audience is pretty much unaware of, knowing that within the next half an hour, lots of people are going to have a new artist to add to their list of favourites. I remember seeing Julie Lee play at the Stables on one of the Bob Harris Presents… nights, where very few people knew who she was, and most of the audience were in love before she came off stage. A great feeling. I like offering things like that to my audience (obviously in a smaller way, as my crowds tend to be smaller than those that Gretchen or the Bob Harris gigs pull) – the gigs I’ve done with Rob Jackson, Calamateur and John Lester have offered that to the people who had come to see me play, and got to hear something else marvelous into the bargain.

Anyway, John won the audience over last night with his first song, and by the end of the set, was selling CDs like a headline act. Great to see.

I wasn’t familiar with Gretchen’s music before the gig, but am a convert now – there are hints of Mary Chapin Carpenter, Sheryl Crow before she went crap, and even a bit of Joni Mitchell, but in a really mellow guitar/double bass/piano trio. Beautiful songs played to perfection. It was great seeing John just doing the bassist’s job – we solo players rarely get to see each other playing in bands (oh, if I had a fiver for every email I get saying ‘I’d love to see you playing in a band’…) so that was a real treat.

And what’s more, the early curfew at the venue meant that John and I could head off for curry and catch up on a year’s worth of news and gig stories.

The only downer on the evening at all was the choice of venue – I’ve done my rant about Carling venues before, and this one was at the Bar Academy in Islington – this was a better environment that when I saw Nick Harper here, but why have an all standing venue for an acoustic trio?? Why have a barman making loads of noise when an acoustic trio is on? The layout of the venue is rubbish, and again, the lack of chairs seems primarily aimed at keeping the beer drinking potential of the audience mobile enough to up their consumption.

I hope the promoter of the show finds a more suited venue soon…

SoundtrackVikki Clayton, ‘Looking At The Stars’.

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a gigful week

September 30th, 2004 · Comments Off on a gigful week

so that’s two down, one to go of this week’s gigs… actually three down if you count the Masterclass on Tuesday afternoon as a gig. Anyway, Tuesday, yes – set off early to pick up Rob Jackson from Cambridge, nice lunch, drive to Leicester. The masterclass was at Leicester College, arranged by access to music – marvellous organisation who put on clinics, tours, resource music colleges and run courses of their own. Great people to be working with.

So Rob and I did a clinic for a bunch of bassists and guitarists, talking about technique and looping and the industry and running your own business as a musician and all that stuff. Seemed to be very well received.

Off to the venue – The Looking Glass – in Leicester. Unloaded into a really groovy little cellar venue room. Out for a bite to eat with Jono from Access To Music, back to set up for gig. sometime around now, a piano player started playing in the bar upstairs, clearly audible in the venue downstairs… uh-oh.

Rob went on, played beautifully, did valiant job of ignoring piano-monkey upstairs (who, to be fair, was only doing his job…) A request to the barman to ask him to turn down didn’t appear to make any difference to the sound level, and it proved to be a big distraction during my whole set. At least for me, if not for the audience, especially when play-me-the-song-I’m-the-piano-man started banging his foot out of time with me and himself… not ideal conditions for a gig, and as a result, I didn’t play particularly well. Still, very warm response from the audience (which was not a bad size considering the gig was booked at the weekend…)

Very nice to see a friendly face or two there (thanks Phil)

Wednesday – Rob dashed home to tend to Rob-things, Kerry Getz arrived back, nice lunch, then learn Kerry’s tunes for gig that night. Kerry’s tunes, it has to be said, involve more key changes than this bassist is used to – I do all that repetitive looping nonsense, I’m not used to four or five key-changes in a tune! Still, I’m a pro, so it’s not hard, just a novelty, like combining the mindset of a jazz gig with music of a top-class singersongwriter gig. Anyway, Kerry’s songs are marvellous, so the songs weren’t hard to pick up – they make sense, which helps.

Drive down to The Bedford, in Balham, meet The Small Person and a rather drunk The Cheat there. Also on the bill are Cathy Burton and Dan Wheeler – good chums of long-standing – and it turns out the Johnny Berliner (his real name, not some obtuse JFK/donut reference) was on in the same venue as me at Edinburgh, in a children’s show, and gigging in the late night cabaret venue too! It’s always nice when someone wanders up back-stage and says ‘I was listening to your CD yesterday!’ – don’t happen all that often, mind you, but when it does, it improves that particular day by about 7 or 8 happiness/smugness points on the Saint and Grievesy happiness/smugness scale.

Acoustix at The Bedford is run by one Tony Moore – Tony used to run the Kashmir Klub, near Baker Street, which was in its time one of the most important and influential venues in London, due in no small part to Tony’s passion and enthusiasm for making top quality acoustic music available in nice venues to appreciative audiences. He’s tireless in his support for such things, and one of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet. A good man, for sure.

Kerry and I are on first (after Tony’s own song opens the show), we play Ocean In A Bottle, and Suspended in December (as an insight into the way my brain works, I wondered quite how the theme of the song would change if the title were suspenders in December, imagining that to be a rather cold and impractical clothing choice for such a time of year…) All goes well.

After us, Cathy and Dan, play, followed by Johnny Donut, Sarah Slean (fab canadian piano playing singer/songwriter person – at the Borderline tomorrow night), and a couple of others (sorry, didn’t write down names…). All good stuff.

Second set, order changes, we’re on second last, first song is duo – Julianne – another fine song. Second one Kerry does on her own, and half way through a recurring problem with the battery compartment on her guitar kicks in and the guitar cuts out. Cue me getting back on stage to hold the battery in place for the rest of the song… very odd, but funny nonetheless.

Tonight Rob and I are in Colchester at The Headgate Theatre. I’m looking forward to this one, as it’s a lovely venue – I’ve no idea how many people are going to be there, but whatever, it should be fun.

Before that, I’m trying to sort out final details for a couple of gigs in the US at the end of October (I’m heading over for a wedding, and taking a bass with me), and also the last couple of gigs with Michael Manring.

SoundtrackJuliet Turner, ‘Burn The Black Suit’; Nick Harper, ‘Blood Songs’; Andy Thornton, ‘Victims And Criminals’; Micheal Manring, ‘Thonk’; Joni Mitchell, ‘Both Sides Now’.

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Recent new CD roundup.

September 26th, 2004 · Comments Off on Recent new CD roundup.

Got a few new fab CDs lately, so here’s a quick summary –

The Low Country – The Dark Road. The Low Country is Rob Jackson‘s band with singer/songwriter Emily Barker. Coupled with a sensitive understated rhythm section, that make downbeat miserable alt.country as though they’d been born and bred in rural Tennessee, not Newcastle and Australia respectively. Rob’s one of my favourite guitarists around, and the marriage of his gorgeous tone and open tuning with Emily’s moving songs and emotive voice is magical.

Julie Lee – Stillhouse Road – more country stylings. I played a load of gigs with Julie a few years ago, and have seen her play loads of times, and enjoyed her self-produced Cds for ages. Now she’s released her debut big-budget album, with a bunch of friends from Nashville… friends that include Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, Colin Linden, Dave Pomeroy… Nashville A-listers one and all. It’s beautiful as you’d expect. Perfectly played, though I do miss Julie’s fantastic srawling rambling guitar playing – if you’ve ever seen her live, you’ll know what an original sounding guitarist she is and sadly there’s not much of her playing on here, but if you’re going to replace her with anyone, it might as well be Colin Linden! A gorgeous CD.

Pierce Pettis – Great Big World. Another long term fave chez Stevie, and someone else I’ve played with in the past. One of Nashville’s finest and most respected songwriters, and a stunning singer and virtuoso guitarist to boot. Pierce was on Windham Hill back in the 80s, and has more recently released a string of fabulous CDs on Compass. This one’s as good as the others, with the added bonus for bass-heads of Danny Thompson appearing on a few tracks on upright. Particularly on the song ‘Leonardo’, the pairing of Pettis and Thompson is inspired.

A Marble Calm – Surfacing. A Marble Calm is a project assemled and revolving around Peter Chilvers, gentlemanly bassist and piano/keyboards whiz from Norwich, and part of the Burning Shed family of artists. Peter and I have duetted a Norwich looping/improv gig and he opened for Rob Jackson and I in Cambridge recently with a lovely ambient piano ‘n’ sampled strings looped improv thingie. This album is in a similar vein, only with some fantastic special guests adding to Pete’s own ambient wash – Rob Jackson, Theo Travis, Tim Bowness and Sandra O’Neil all make fabulous contributions to this haunting and engaging ambient singer/songwriter CD.

Todd Johnson/Kristin Korb Trio – Get Happy. Todd’s been one of my favourite bassists ever since I first saw him playing with Jimmy Haslip in a two basses + drums trio at NAMM a few years ago. Gifted with a remarkable chordal vocabulary and a technical facility that allows him to simultaneously comp chords and play swinging bass lines on his six string bass, he’s worth at least two players to any band he’s in. And this is him in a trio with double bassist/vocalist Kristin Korb, and drummer Kendal Kaye. How Kristin manages to sing and swing at the same time, I’ll never know – her vocal phrasing is amazing, and she plays walking lines like Ray Brown. The CD is a collection of a great vocal standards, with a couple of originals thrown in. Lovely lovely stuff.

So there you go, get shopping!

Soundtrack – all of the above.

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Emotion before style.

September 7th, 2004 · Comments Off on Emotion before style.

I get given or sent an alarming number of CDs. Most weeks a couple will drop through the letter box, some with me having been emailed beforehand, others just sent to the p.o. box address on the website. Most of them because people think what they do is stylistically close to what I do, and I might dig it. Some just because people like what I do and assume (reasonably often correctly) that if they connect with my music, it might work the other way round. Some just because they feature loads of bass.

NAMM is the worst place for the ‘loads of bass’ CDs – ‘you love this, steve, it’s got tonnes of great bass playing on it’, or ‘it’s solo bass, you’ll love it’… etc. etc. Same with Cds featuring looping…

What this doesn’t take into consideration is that I’m rarely drawn to music because it stylistically gels with me. More often than not, it’s the emotional content and connection that overrides whatever style the person is working in, and I get the feeling that I’d love it whatever style they’d chosen as a vehicle for their muse.

I don’t like most of the solo bass music I’ve heard – there are some fairly obvious exceptions – Michael Manring, Trip Wamsley, John Lester, Arild Andersen, Jonas Hellborg and a handful of others are solo bassists that make music that really hits the spot for me. Most of it does nothing for me. Why? Because most music does nothing for me. Most music does nothing for you. The amount of music in any one style that any of us connect with is pretty small, even if we’re fanatical about metal/punk/electronica/folk/whatever. So the chances are that I’m not going to enjoy most of what people do on solo bass. The law of averages suggests that most of the music made by one person and a bass is going to miss me. Some of it I’ll enjoy on an athletic/cerebral level but still not get as ‘art’, others will just really annoy me.

I listen to very little solo bass music, other than my own (it’ll come as no surprise to anyone who’s been following my Audioscrobbler page that I listen to a lot of me – hey, I like it, I’m the target audience!) My CD collection gets some surprised looks once in a while – ‘I didn’t know you were into indie’, ‘I’m not, I just really like [insert indie band from cd collection here]’… I do have a dispensation towards certain musical styles – singer/songwriters tend to get a fair bit of airtime here, as do interesting instrumental soloists and duets (currently playing is the Cuong Vu trio – ‘Come Play With Me’, which is trumpet, bass and drums).

So, feel free to send or give me your CDs, but only on the understanding that I’ll listen to it as music, and may not even get round to that for quite a few months, and then probably won’t have time to write you a review (I still haven’t had the chance to listen to a lot of the stuff I was given at NAMM in January!) – I do still buy a fair few CDs, and get sent some hotly-anticipated stuff by friends, which often ends up getting a few spins in a row. The latest of those is the new album by The Low Country, ‘The Dark Road’ – they’re Rob Jackson’s band, and the CD is fantastic. You really ought to check it out, it’s just marvellous, engaging, emotive beautiful, mellow music.

Anyway, back to you sending me music – if I don’t get back to you, please don’t be offended – it may be that I’ve just been busy, or it got lost in the huge piles of CDs on my desk, or it may be that I don’t like it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like you. I’ve got plenty of friends who aren’t really into my music, and I don’t hold their appalling lack of aesthetic judgement against them. I just pity them. Pity me.

On a slightly different note, a huge thanks from both the small person and myself to everyone who’s sent messages about The Aged Feline – your well wishes and sympathy is massively appreciated and very comforting.

Soundtrack – Cuong Vu, ‘Come Play With Me’; Kelly Joe Phelps, ‘Shiny Eyed Mr Zen’.

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A wet weekend in Heaven…

September 2nd, 2004 · Comments Off on A wet weekend in Heaven…

So Greenbelt‘s over for another year. Once again ’twas a fantastic festival. Definitely the best fest there is.

I was pretty exhausted when I arrived, having got back from Edinburgh, then gone to Southampton to play at Greyum and Chrissie’s wedding (which was a fantastic day), and had to jump straight into flyering/postering mode as my solo gig was on the Friday night. two minutes before I went on stage, a GB fire officer came in telling me they were about to remove my car with a crane as I was parked in a fire lane. so move car, rush back to do gig. Previous band overrun, quickest changeover possible, and nice big crowd. Lots of friendly faces (and no friendly faeces). About a minute into ‘Grace And Gratitude, I notice that the second Lexicon unit wasn’t working, so I looped the melody so I could get up and fix it (just plug the powerchord back in), but in getting up, I twatted my head off a TV set hanging over the stage, and nearly knocked myself out. doh!

middle of second tune, I realise that my Ebow is still in my jacket pocket, so more looping and shuffling ensues. All good fun. Many of the jokes from the Edinburgh show make their way in a modified form (tourettes removed), all goes very well.

finish at 10, pack up, and start compering in big acoustic venue at 11. First night was Peter Case, followed by Terry Callier followed by Julie Lee. good lord, what a remarkable night’s music. Terry was breathtakingly good. Lovely bloke too. Big success all-round. Compering’s lots of fun, and back stage crew are very friendly and helpful. Get to bed about 3

Saturday am is first rehearsal for Sunday morning service… ends up being about 5 hours of rehearsal on the Saturday… bit much, but sounding good.

Saturday night, The Low Country played on Stage 2 – fantastic gig, one of the best things on this year. More compering, this time Brian Houston, Rosie Thomas and Denison Witmer. Again, all fantastic. Nice to be compering on this stage rather than having to try and sound enthusiastic about generic rock shite on the mainstage played by people who look like potatoes. got to bed about 3.30.

Saturday as a whole though was spoilt by The Small Person having to head home due to the Aged Feline being v. ill. We’d had to take him to the vets after Edinburgh, not well at all, not eating. Turns out he’s got Pancreatitis, and Pneumonia, as complications of his Chronic Renal Failure. None of it is looking good for the little guy.

Sunday mornig was the service – the Greenbelt service is generally fabulous. This year the music was just me, two drummers and 15,000 singers, which was a fun gig to have! Lots of new tunes by Andy Thornton, and some old GB favourites. Fun to be sat next to the Archbishop of Canterbury, playing afro-cuban grooves… sort of fits into that ‘mark thatcher arrested for funding a military coup’ bracket of weird unpredictable scenarios.

The rest of sunday was a bit more relaxed, punctuated by regular calls to the small person to check on The Aged Feline’s condition, which was not good but stable. I was pretty exhausted all day, but didn’t got and see much so was able to relax a bit more before compering that evening. Three more marvellous things – Cathy Burton (great as always), Moya Brennan (interview plus a few songs to backing track – lovely person, fascinating story, hope she comes back with a band soon.) and Martyn Joseph. Brilliant as ever. another late night.

Planned a lie in on Monday, but Deb and Alice were packing up their tent next door at some ungodly hour. Woke up, went for breakfast with my mum (oh yes, hardcore festival going mum have we). saw Rob Jackson at lunch time playing solo – magical stuff, and very funny too. Then did my gig with Calamateur, AKA andrew howie, which went very well. His songs are just marvellous, and the album’s a must.

An afternoon of wandering was followed by another performance cafe gig, this time with Andrew Buckton, who has the ability to make me cry with his songs while I’m playing them – not great when you’re trying to read chord charts. Magical stuff.

From that gig I rushed up to the mainstage to catch as much as possible of Show Of Hands – possibly the greatest live act in Britain. A massive inspiration in terms of their ability to connection with their audience, controlled virtuosity like a couple of internationally renowned concert soloists, and a great sense of humour. I come away from their gigs feeling like a total amateur. I’m pretty good at what I do, but they take the art of performing to a whole new level. I hope I never miss another London gig of theirs…

They were followed by Ron Sexsmith and Jamelia – Ron was fab (I’m a fan anyway) and Jamelia was agood festival ending gig – loads of people digging it, she had a great band with her, top stuff. We closed out the festival in Centaur with a great jazz singer called Polly Gibbons.

As you’ll notice, I didn’t get to a single seminar or worship event over the weekend – more evidence that I’d taken on far too much. next year, I’ll drop one or more of those commitments, or at least refuse to rehearse for the service! :o) But all in all it was a great fest. It’s lovely to be at a festival where I know literally hundreds of people, and have most of my favourite people in the world on one site. Great to catch up with other lovely people who are equally busy and to meet some new lovely people.

The big shadow over the whole weekend though for us was The Aged Feline. He’s coming home from the vets today, and the future looks bleak, and very short. Please keep the little guy in your thoughts and prayers – the last thing we want is for him to be in any pain or discomfort.

soundtrack – Moya Brennan, ‘Two Horizons’; The Low Country, ‘The Dark Road’; The Cure, ‘The Cure’ (thanks Greg!); the two CD compilations I made to play between the acts at Greenbelt…

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Grace And Gratitude Tour, first leg Blog

August 9th, 2004 · Comments Off on Grace And Gratitude Tour, first leg Blog

Well, the first leg of the tour is over, and a lot of fun it was too!

The four dates were Cambridge, Southampton, London and Brighton, at each of them I was joined by Rob Jackson in support and also for some duet stuff.

Cambridge kicked it off – the venue was a place called CB2 – a tiny and very groovy cellar venue, with a low stage and nice simple lighting. Rob and I also had Peter Chilvers along on this one, and his set kicked off the show – a set of solo looping keyboard/sampled string stuff which was beautiful. Actually, he didn’t kick it off, I did with an ambient loopy thing, just cos we’d forgotten to bring a CD player for background music… :o)

After Pete came Rob’s first set of the tour – I’ve got Rob’s CD, ‘Wire Wood And Magnets’ and have heard him playing guitar for Boo Hewerdine before, but this was the first time I’d seen him play a whole solo set, and he was fabulous. Really really beautiful music. Very funny between songs, and a gorgeous tone. We mic’d up his little Cornell amp and ran it through my AccuGroove/QSC/Mackie rig, which sounded fanastic. Catherine street-team did an amazing street-teamers job of flyering and postering before-hand, bringing friends, doing the door and CDs!!! Good lord, the woman’s a god-send.

Then came my solo set – the first time I’ve played the tunes off the new CD live. I did the title tune, Shizzle, The Kindness Of Strangers, Despite My Worst Intentions and a few older numbers. Shizzle was a little bit shambolic but I largely pulled it off, although on ‘Despite My Worst Intentions’ I clicked ‘next loop’ to start recording the B section and it was already there!!! Possibly the weirdest two seconds I’ve ever had on stage, suddenly stepping sideways into some futuristic world where Echoplexes know what you’re about to play! what had happened was I’d played the tune in the soundcheck, but hadn’t wiped that loop, just the A loop, so everything else was in Loop 1, and Loop 2 was merrily waiting to be retriggered. Very odd indeed.

Stayed at Robs, brunch at The Orchard in Grantchester (the first of quite a few nice posh lunches on this tour), then back to mine to change, and get ready to head down to Southampton. I brought the box of CDs in doors to replenish from the previous night’s sales, and completely forgot to put them back in the car!!

Drove to Southampton, stopping for a bite to each in a pub in Buriton, Hampshire with Iain Martin from Stiff Promotions and his brother Ali.

The gig was at The Hobbit – a HUGE pub in Southampton, on about 5 different levels, outdoor bits, etc. absolutely massive. the music was in a little room in the middle, with a stage and a built in PA. The venue hire bands in to play, but don’t charge on the door. We set up, I realised I only had two CDs there to sell (doh!), and lots of friendly faces turned up. But the music wasn’t set to start til 10pm, and by then, a lot of very hammered people had also turned up and set themselves up by the stage, who proceeded to talk/shout/laugh/make dickheads of themselves loudly for the next three hours. The venue did nothing. No concern for either Rob or I, or the majority of the people there who wanted to listen to the music. So much for treating the musicians well. Given that the place was huge, it wouldn’t have been hard for the venue to ask them to move to another part of the venue, or for them to even have charged a couple of quid to get into the room we were playing in, thus filtering out the losers.

Anyway, the nice people outnumbered the morons, and we had a great night inspite of the shouting. Always nice to see friendly faces in the audience, especially Grant, Aidan and my Southampton mini-me, Vicky.

long drive home in the middle of the night, back to London.

Saturday night was Launch gig at Darbucka – possibly the grooviest venue in London, sumptuously decorated, great food, lovely arabic vibe. A marvellous place. Very nice to see so many friendly faces there (though I’m not sure how good it is that about a third of the audience already had the new CD via the advanced ordering thingie on the site!).

At both the Southampton gig and the London gig I had a bit of a Nightmare getting ‘The Kindness Of Strangers’ to work – it’s a really tricky tune to get the for rhythmic loops at the beginning in time with. you’ve got an initial loop, that gets kicked up an octave, as you start recording the next tune layer, then another little melodic line, and then the dubby bassline that takes it from a one bar phrase to 16 bar phrase. it was at about the time of my third restart on the tune that I realised how much harder the new stuff (and my new live setup) is to play! Blimey, these tunes are much more complex, and as more of them were improvised on the spot than on ‘Not Dancing’, it’s taking me longer to learn them.

At both the Southampton gig and the London gig, Rob played marvellously again, and it became very apparent that it’s a really good touring combination, me and Mr Jackson.

Theo also came and played with us on the London gig, played a beautiful solo tune, did a couple of duets with me, and a really nice trio tune to end a marvellous night. Thanks very much to everyone who came down.

And finally Sunday night in Brighton. Or not – it was actually in Southwick, just outside Brighton, which on Pride weekend, is not the greatest place to be (my fault for choosing to tour in August, a notoriously bad month for touring). Add to that the venue changing hands a week before and the new owners putting up NO posters for the gig, and you’re not on for a big crowd.

thankfully promoter Rich did a great job, got his mates down, the room was fantastic with a view over the harbour, and the gig was great fun. A really nice listening audience in a gorgeous venue. Can’t say fairer than that!

So all in, a great four days. There’s some work to be done on the new tunes to get them up to the standard of the album, but they’re already sounding lovely in the set.

I’m now really looking forward to leg II – Glasgow, Berwick and Edinburgh. See you there!

soundtrack – right now, Michael Manring and David Cullen, ‘ Equilibre’. Before that, The Low Country, ‘Welcome to The Low Country’.

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All systems go on the new CD!

June 25th, 2004 · Comments Off on All systems go on the new CD!

So, the new Cd – Grace and Gratitude – is recorded and is being mastered as I write, the artwork’s finished and been sent off to the manufacturers, there’s a page up in the e-shop about it with some MP3s and preordering details, and gigs are getting booked! This is the fun bit – I really enjoy the hustle and bustle of making this work – making CDs, booking gigs, sending out press releases and all that. It’s a little daunting, and I’m easily distracted, but when I’m on a roll, it’s great fun.

It looks like I’m going to be doing a few dates with Rob Jackson around the time of the album release, which I’m really looking forward to – Rob’s a hugely talented solo guitarist, and I’m sure that anyone who digs what I do is going to love his music. I’m trying to book a launch gig at the moment, and might be going out to check out a venue this afternoon… watch this space.

Had a great response to the MP3s so far, which is good news – I think this is my best album… I’ve thought that with each album I’ve released, and I don’t think it’s just that I’m enamoured with newness… It seems like there’s a definite progression from one to the next. This one takes some of the more advanced looping that’s going on on ‘Open Spaces‘, and combining it with the more melacholic side of my solo stuff (Ok, except Shizzle, which is good ole’ fashioned stevie-style-funkiness).

So what’s still to be done? Posters need to be sent out for the gigs, more gigs need to be confirmed, Edinburgh promo needs doing, websites need informing that the CD is out, as soon as I get the master CD back I need to start burning CDRs to send out to radio for airplay ahead of the release date, and I need to resume talks with the various distributors who’ve expressed an interest in the CDs, and see if we can come to some sort of mutually beneficial deal to get this stuff into the shops… On top of that, I have a set of John Lester’s tunes to learn, and I need to go back and learn all the tracks on the CD in order to be able to play them live! I also need to mix and master the extra disc, ‘Lessons Learned From An Aged Feline Pt II’ – I’ve got lots of extra tracks that I really like, so I think it’s going to be a rather lovely CD once again…

Other than that, I had a marvellous gig last night with Jez, Tom Hooper on drums and Michael Haughton on sax – it was a function gig in a gorgeous hotel near Bath. Now those of you who do function gigs will know that the staff in hotels and function suites often treat bands as less than vermine, but the entire staff at this hotel were SOOOO helpful. It made such a refreshing change! The event organiser was totally on top of everything, we played really well, got paid – what’s not to love? It was great fun getting back to playing with a quartet, and we used my Accugroove/Mackie/QSC set up as the PA, and it sounded incredible. Ain’t no other bass rig I could use as a PA for sax, piano bass and drums!!

Got back at 4.30 this morning, so slept in late. Am only now just getting into the land of the living. Need to go and post off some Cd orders, reply to some email, go and check out a venue for the album launch, contact some venues and send out some press stuff. Busy day!

Soundtrack – right now, Public Enemy, ‘It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back’; yesterday – cathy burton, ‘Speed Your Love’; Brian Houston, ‘Thirteen Days in August’; David Torn, ‘What Means Solid, Traveller?’

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half way through and I've rarely had so much fun

March 20th, 2004 · Comments Off on half way through and I've rarely had so much fun

What a week!

The Exeter gig was sold out three weeks in advance, the Petersfield gig was sold out, the clinic at Basstech was standing room only, the Brighton gig was standing room only (no idea what the fire limit was for the room!). Blimey, this solo bass stuff is really catching on!

We’re having so much fun, it’s unreal. Michael’s been playing through my amp set up, which means that I can now also loop and process him as well, which has opened up a whole new soundworld for us to explore! And seeing as how I nicked the whole bass + looping deal from him in the first place, it’s no wonder that he reacts to what’s happening in the loop so unbelieveably well. I can throw just about anything at him, and it works!

Fortunately last night was recorded, by two different people, and videoed for us, so I’m looking forward to seeing some of that!

If you came to one of the gigs – thankyou very much. The audiences have been great, and the feedback’s been marvellous.

And to cap it all, I don’t think I’ve laughed as hard as I have in the car on the way to the gigs in a long time.

Miss the next three gigs at your peril!

Soundtrack – Kelly Joe Phelps, ‘Slingshot Professionals’; Rob Jackson, ‘Wire, Wood and Magnets’.

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